Athens geriatrician is on top of the world

The old people’s doctor sings karaoke.

But her repertoire is heavier on the Carpenters and other 1970s pop stars than on the gospel and big band music favored by the octogenarians in her waiting room.

Dr. May Luz Bullecer is one of six board-certified internal medicine physicians specializing in geriatric medicine in Athens. She runs a busy group practice with her husband, also an internist, and 3 other doctors.

At home, she and Dr. Mark Paradella have two young sons and lead an active life in their church and community. Including karaoke, of course.

Right now, Bullecer’s life echoes the lyrics of a Carpenters song: “I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation.”

Growing up in the Philippines, Dr. Bullecer was sad to see how little medical care was available for her aging grandparents. Later, when she was in medical school, she decided to focus on geriatrics.

Today, she and her partners play a large role in providing access to health care for the nearly 14,000 older adults in Athens Clarke-County. Dr. Bullecer assists patients with needs as they age such as dietary regulations, determining levels of physical activity, and reviewing proper steps to prevent injuries.

When Bullecer walks into one of the examining rooms in her West Athens office, her goal is to make the encounter as pleasant and comfortable as it can be for each patient. The stakes can be high: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and other chronic diseases all become more common in the final chapter of life.  These need diagnosis and ongoing management.

But aging can bring other, more nuanced problems as well: some patients lose interest in eating properly, socializing, or remaining physically active. Others need to modify their homes to avoid falls or disorientation.

Bullecer handles it all with warmth and good cheer.

“In order for you to be confident enough to practice and take care of older adults, you have to have good training,” she said. She did  her medical residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, followed by a geriatric fellowship at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, both in New York.

But mostly she credits her clinical skills to her mentor, Dr. T.S. Dharmarajan. He taught her much of what she knows about caring for older patients and gave her the opportunity to contribute to Clinical Geriatrics, a textbook he edited in 2001, while she was still a medical fellow.

Dharmarajan is still her guide when she sees patients every day in Athens.

Ms. Purification Daniel, 82, moved to the United States from the Philippines eight years ago and has been coming to Bullecer ever since. It’s special that they can communicate in both English and Tagalog.

“I love coming to see her!” says the Athens resident.  Being able to communicate in both languages makes it unlikely that Daniel will misunderstand medication or treatment advice.

Dr. Bullecer also keeps the families of her patients in the know.

Sitting in the lobby after business hours, Anna Sanchez, 24, and her mother wait to meet with Bullecer to answer questions about her grandmother’s diabetes medication. Originally from Mexico, Sanchez and her grandmother, Jovita Banales, are close. And the young adult has become the main caregiver for the 83-year-old matriarch of the family.

“She really keeps track of where her patients are and how they are doing,” Sanchez says of Bullecer.

Sanchez marvels at the rapport Bullecer has established with her grandmother. “It’s amazing the way that they are bonding,” she said

Patients are not the only people who sing Bullecer’s praises. Her office staff also values Bullecer’s selfless and gracious attitude.

Deborah Horton, office manager at Athens Geriatrics and Internal Medicine, has worked for Bullecer for seven years. She commutes from Watkinsville every morning to work at the office on Oglethorpe Avenue.

“The person you see is who she genuinely is,” Horton said. “She’s really great to work for.”

Katie Ball

Katie Ball

Katie Ball is a second-year HMJ student aiming for a career in broadcast journalism. Her interests include medical technology research and sustainable environmental practices, and she develops web content for the Georgia Sea Grant Program, an organization promoting outreach and education on the Georgia coast. In 2010, she earned a B.F.A. in speech communication with a minor in sociology from Valdosta State University.

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